WORKS: Israel in Egypt
PERFORMER: The Sixteen, The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16011 Reissue (1993)
In Handel’s lifetime, Israel in Egypt failed due to its relative lack of ‘pleasing airs of the stage’. Coro here makes the oratorio even more chorus-weighted by jettisoning all but two of the solo items – though it’s only when you open the booklet that you realise the work isn’t offered complete. The most regrettable omission is the alto aria ‘Thou shalt bring them in’, a necessary point of repose between ‘The people shall hear’ and the final jubilation: what we get instead here, incongruously, is a movement from a Handel organ concerto. The performance itself, originally issued (complete on two CDs) in 1993, is enjoyable: crisp, light on its feet and modestly scaled, yet with a vivid sense of drama in the ‘Plague’ numbers (you won’t hear a more fanatically violent ‘He smote all the first-born’) and ample heft in the celebratory eight-part choruses. The brief solo contributions, all from choir members, are less interesting.
If you’re happy with around three-quarters of the work on a single disc, then this should serve well enough. But for a complete Israel, Andrew Parrott’s thrilling 1985 Virgin recording still leads the field. Richard Wigmore